All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Final Frontier: Studying for Exams

We all know the following fact:

The best way to study for exams is to complete your homework every night, pay attention in every class, and study for every quiz and test all year long!

That is great in theory, but I would rather talk about (or at least mention) the reality of many high school students with the best intentions.  They just have not (for whatever valid or invalid reason) been staying completely on top of their work all year.  As Lincoln said, “well done is better than well said.”  Therefore, being the time for doing rather than talking is almost upon us in the form of finals, I want to give a short, compiled list of tips for anyone interested.  What follows caters to both those who have studied all year and those who well…were preoccupied with the many other good deeds and community service I am sure they were performing.

A.     Schedule
1.      Organize: “Studying for Exam Guidelines created by The University of New South Whales says to work backwards.  Create a calendar and then cross out the times you cannot study.  This is a good way to understand how little time you have to procrastinate!  Make sure you have everything you need to study before starting.  The fewer interruptions to fetch this paper or that book, the easier it will be to gain a longer lasting grasp of the material.
2.      Save the best for last:  Tackle your most difficult subjects first.  Devote the most energy and that high level of excitement you have at the beginning to topics that drain you.  Keep your easy subjects for the home stretch.

B.      Prepare
1.      Prioritize: You need to know what to study.  According to a study completed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, the trick is to narrow your focus.  Read the study guide, or if a teacher gives you a list of items, do not stray from it.  If there is no list, ask your classmates and go over your notes.  Try highlighting information that you remember the teacher stressing during class.
2.      What works:  Know what strategies work best for you and be prepared to use them by previewing the material you are going to study.  Will you outline, use a graphic organizer, create a mneumonic, or take notes on your notes?  Whatever your strategy, get what you need to execute it before you start.

C.      Work
1.      Categorize:  Study in a fashion that works for the subject.  If it is Math, practice the problems giving you difficulty.  Save the reading of notes for either history or English.  If you are dealing with sequential material from computers, look at the big picture to understand what goes where.  Then quiz yourself by covering up small parts of the bigger picture.  If you have an essay exam, review and think about concepts.
2.      Test yourself:  Turn your notes into questions, talk through possible essays, and do not be shy of flash cards.

D.     Environment
1.      Study groups:  These are great if used appropriately.  Don’t fool around!  Find another student who is very serious about their grades and then make good use of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
2.      Distractions:  Remember to keep your study area free from distractions, well lit, and comfortable.  Attempt to study in a posture that you will have when testing.  It helps put your mind in the proper framework on test day.  If you will be sitting at a desk it is probably not the best idea to study lying on your bed with the music blaring!
3.      Unplug:  Consider “unplugging” while you are studying.  That beeping phone and computer is hard for anyone to ignore.  It will knock you off track.

E.      Rest
1.      Take breaks and reward yourself:  Studying for too long at once overloads your brain.  Remember that most people only concentrate well for about 45 minutes.  Be sure to build in short breaks with a healthy snack.  Junk food sounds good, but the boost is short lived followed by a longer lasting crash that will end, rather than jump start the rest of your studying.
2.      Start studying early and finish early:  You want a relaxed, fresh mind when going into a test.  Not a caffeinated, jittery, overtired “I just finished my all-nighter” brain!

As adults, we need to understand (or remember) something about high school and its population.  Academics may not be at the top of students’ priority list.  As students, you need to realize that (much like we say) they need to be at least first or second for your own sake.

The point is high school is busy for teenagers.  It is full of the social aspect, sports, academics, and life.  All of which are incredibly important to students no matter how much we downplay them in the face of academics.  This can be overwhelming at times and cause anxiety that will in turn hinder performance and enjoyment in any or all of the areas mentioned above.  You may not have studied the whole year.  This post may not have helped.

The most important study tip I want to give is synonymous with life.  Approach studying and test taking with the right attitude by not focusing on obstacles or failure, but your skills and abilities.

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